Review of The Answer by K.A. Applegate
by K.A. Applegate
I read #53: The Answer and #54: The Beginning back-to-back because this book ends on a cliffhanger. Like the rest of my reviews of Animorphs, I’m not really flagging this as having spoilers despite discussing the plot, because I figure that if you’re reading this review of the end of a 50-book series 20 years later, then you probably don’t care that much about spoilers.
ALSO, weirdly enough, very specific spoiler for Buffy season 5, FYI.
Indubitably it’s fitting that the last Animorphs book narrated from a single person’s perspective is narrated by Jake, the leader, the one who started it off. One might, if one had more emotional fortitude than myself, go back after reading this book and re-read #1: The Invasion right away, just to see the juxtaposition of the two Jakes. I bet it would be A Trip! The Jake of The Answer is tired, broken, angry, scared, and basically every type of messy emotion you would expect from a child soldier turned into a child general. This is a brutal book.
There’s a moment in Buffy: The Vampire Slayer at the end of season 5 that is hands-down one of my favourite lines of the series. Giles stands over a supine Ben/Glory, and calmly explains that Buffy could never have killed Ben, because “She’s a hero, you see. She’s not like us.” And then he smothers Ben to death. This act of chilling pragmatism, the way Giles implies he’s doing this to spare Buffy further pain, creates so many questions about what we consider to be heroic. Is it heroic to slaughter thousands, hundreds of thousands of creatures you consider your enemy? Is it heroic to send your people off to their deaths if you think it will save lives? Is it heroic to manipulate a pacifist android into inadvertently assisting your militant strategy? Jake does all of these things.
Jake’s key realization, what we are supposed to think is the eponymous answer of this book, is that he can take one for the team so no one else has to. Namely, Jake sacrifices himself as much as he sacrifices Rachel. He basically kills his humanity because he thinks that’s the best way to save the rest of humanity.
And I don’t like it.
I’m really, really tired of the idea that Sometimes In War We Must Do Terrible Things. Too often in fiction this seems like an excuse for the glorification of violence. That isn’t what Applegate is doing here, mind you. I know she’s attempting to explore, for a youth audience, the horrible nature of the choices people make in war. I know that this is ultimately a story about the horror of war, and Applegate is extremely clear that the Animorphs did A Good Thing by forcing the Andalites’ hand and averting the wholesale destruction of Earth, even if it cost a lot of Yeerk lives.
I’m just not really interested in science fiction perpetuating the inevitability of awful decisions in war when it could instead be exploring more interesting possibilities.
So that’s why I love this ending to the series. I love how Applegate finally concludes the arc that she started at the beginning of this series—and I’m not talking about the Yeerk invasion. I’m referring, obviously, to the incredible potential of morphing technology to end the war once and for all. This has been the elephant in the room for over 50 books now, and finally it gets a serious hearing, with potent results. The whole subplot with Arbron and the Taxxons reminds us that there are alternative ways to resolve conflicts that don’t involve mass slaughter and bloodshed. But the Andalites and the Yeerks have been fighting for too long to remember that.
So that’s why I think the real answer of this book refers to that solution, to the idea that there is a third path out of this war. If Jake and the Animorphs don’t completely pull it off, if more lives were lost along the way, that isn’t their fault—that is the messy reality of plans never working quite like you intend. What matters, I think, is that he and the Animorphs tried. There are so many other ways in which Applegate might have ended this series. She could have developed a bioweapon that starves the Yeerks out of every possible host. She could have had the Animorphs completely genocide the entire Yeerk species. But she didn’t. She leaves the door open to the possibility of peace, of reparation. Perhaps the Yeerks back on the homeworld will one day be able to morph into a form that suits them.
At the end of the day, the Animorphs always revelled in how morphing was this incredible gift. The most joyous moments of this series occur when one or more of them goofs off in morph. When they describe the incredible sensations of flight, of swimming in a pod of dolphins, of burrowing into the soft earth. There is a cruel irony in this series, that the Andalites, who are literally in physical contact with their planet every time they feed, perceive a technology that lets them become closer to nature only as a weapon of war, while some humans, who are every bit as quick—if not more quick—to violence as Andalites, view it as this incredible experience.